How do you write in reference to context?
Often, a reference to context involves an explanation of a quote. Examples of providing context include discussing what leads to the quote, what the quote itself means, what it reveals about the story, and what it could mean for the rest of the story, as well.
Part 1: Referencing the Quotation in Relation to its Context in the Work
When discussing a quotation in reference to its context, you will provide information about certain specifics of the quotation: (1) the work the quotation is taken from; (2) the author of the work; (3) the type and form of the work (e.g., lyric poem, novel); (4) the location of the quotation in the work (beginning, middle, last stanza, etc); (5) and the situation, or the context, of the general work; (6) the context/situation of the quotation itself. To reiterate, identify the work the quotation is found in and its author; identify the type or form of the work; identify the location of the quotation within the work; identify the situation/context described by the work; identify the context/situation of the quotation. Let's look at these points in an example related to Three Men in a Boat by using this random quotation: "They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness."
- They ...................... laziness.
- Reference to Context
- The quotation occurs in the humorous travelogue novel Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) written by Jerome K. Jerome. It occurs at the beginning of the novel in Chapter I. The novel satirically explores society in Victorian England through a boating journey three hypochondriacal young men, and a dog, take down the River Thames. In the lines referenced, the narrator is discussing an earlier view of his lifelong illness, which was, he suggests, chronically misdiagnosed as "laziness."
- In these sentences the narrator mentions how the past and present medical opinions of his disease differ from each other, exposing his Victorian ennui, a boredom resulting in hypochondriacal maladies assuaged by citing a more or less advanced medical science. In an ironical and understated laugh at himself, J. matter-of-factly states that in his youth medical experts didn't diagnose his disease as being caused by his "liver," rather, because "[m]edical science" was "far less advanced" in his childhood than at the time of J.'s narration, he ironically states with mock sincerity that his disease was "then" explained as "laziness." The writer (personified in the unnamed narrator designated only by "J.") exposes society's tendency toward hypochondria (or neurosis) by pretending to expose a weakness in medical science. Victorian society is humorously exposed as inadequate and artificial through satire criticizing the individual whose city life engenders boredom, complacency and hypochondriacal thoughts. The writer foreshadows a satirically amusing look at society during which the rigors of life and the contrariness of nature will be examined through the experience of unreliable characters who fail to assess their own pretensions while being fondly aware of everyone else's.
In the above example of an Explanation section, the first, one-sentence, part is this sentence: "In these sentences...." The second part, mentioning devices, begins here: "In an ironical and understated...." The third part, relating and commenting on, begins here: "The writer...." The devices mentioned in the second part are irony, understatement, mockery (part of satire). In the third part, the devices of satire and foreshadowing are also mentioned. The effect of the quotation on the work, which is commented on in the third part, is to engage and invite Jerome's Victorian readers to embark upon a "satirically amusing look at society" focused through nature's contrariness and people's pretensions, such as were uncovered by the German students' prank: "Herr Slossenn Boschen got up. ... It appeared that the song was not a comic song at all."
In summary, to "write with reference to context," use a format of two sections, those being Reference to Context and Explanation. In section one (Reference to Context), using simple, brief sentences, locate the quotation in relation to its author and position in the whole work, and identify the type/form of the work (e.g., ballad, satire). Provide a brief description of the context/situation of the work, then of the quotation. In section two (Explanation), provide a one-sentence explanation of the meaning of the quotation by considering literary/poetic devices to uncover the deep meaning of the quotation. Then elaborate upon the devices in order to bring out their specific meanings. Follow this by relating (telling) the relevance and aesthetic function of the devices and by commenting on (giving logical opinion with evidence) the effect the devices in the quotation have on the work, poem or section.
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Sometimes the quotations that appear in this type of question are suggestive of the theme of the work or sometimes they point to character development or to conflict. After reading a quotation in the question, and identifying it in its literary context (author, title etc), ask yourself what the meaning of this particular passage is and why its literary (or poetic) devices are significant. What is the quotation's connection to the work overall? Does the quotation suggest anything about a theme or a particular character or the conflict in the work? These questions about context might help you understand the meaning of the quotation better. Sometimes a quotation will have literary/poetic devices, like diction and key words, that are very strong in deep connotative meaning and that will help you relate the quotation to meaning through theme, character, or conflict.
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